By Ben Kopp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
KYIV, Ukraine – A historic chain of events found Ukrainian protesters in control of the capital Kyiv, opposition icon Yulia Tymoshenko free from prison, and President Viktor Yanukovych defiantly claim to still wield power after Parliament voted to dismiss him.
Since November 2013, Ukrainian protests escalated into a Cold War-style confrontation, as Russia attempted prevent EU and US efforts to strengthen relations with Ukraine.
On 22 February 2014, security forces abandoned President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled Kyiv. Tens of thousands of protestors who occupied Independence Square discovered nearly-abandoned government and presidential buildings.
Inside Yanukovych’s private estate, Ukrainians found luxuries ranging from a private zoo to a replica galleon floating on an artificial waterway.
“I am in shock,” a retired military servicewoman named Natalia Rudenko said as she inspected the president’s rare pheasant collection and a banquet hall built inside the galleon replica. “In a country with so much poverty, how can one person have so much?”
As Yanukovych gave a television interview from the pro-Russian eastern bastion city of Kharkiv, he denounced the “coup” against him and branded his political foes “bandits.”
In Yanukovych’s absence, Parliament stepped into the power vacuum , voted to oust President Yanukovych, and set new elections for 25 May 2014. Next, Parliament ordered Yanukovych’s pro-EU rival, Tymoshenko free from prison. United States officials applauded Tymoshenko’s release, and wished her “a speedy recovery as she seeks the appropriate medical treatment that she has long needed and sought.”
Tymoshenko appeared in a wheelchair to 50,000 protestors, saying, “You are heroes, you are the best of Ukraine.”
Later, deputies named Tymoshenko ally Arsen Avakov as interior minister in place of Vitaliy Zakharchenko, who is blamed for ordering the police to open fire on unarmed protesters.
The army issued a statement that it “will in no way become involved in the political conflict.” Additionally, the police force declared itself in support of “the people” and “rapid change”.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said, “Events in the last 24 hours show the will of Ukrainians to move towards a different future, and ensure that the voices of those who have protested courageously over several months are heard.”
“This is a political knockout for Yanukovych,” charismatic opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said in a statement. “Yanukovych is no longer president.”
In a firm voice, Yanukovych vowed to fight any attempt to oust him: “I am not leaving the country for anywhere. I do not intend to resign. I am the legitimately elected president.
However, government buildings stood without police protection as baton-armed protesters dressed in military fatigues wandered freely across his once-fortified compound.
Russia’s foreign ministry accused the opposition of “submitting itself to armed extremists and looters whose actions pose a direct threat to the sovereignty and constitutional order of Ukraine.”
Only time will tell how well the waters of this Ukrainian spring have cleansed a country following months of turmoil.
For further information, please see:
AFP – Protesters Hail Freed Tymoshenko But Ukraine Leader Defiant – February 22, 2014
Aljazeera – Freed Tymoshenko Addresses Ukraine Protesters – February 22, 2014
Euronews – Ukraine: New Parliamentary Speaker Elected – February 22, 2014
New York Times – Ukraine’s Leader Flees the Capital; Elections Are Called – February 22, 2014
TIME World – Freed Ukrainian Opposition Leader Yulia Tymoshenko Addresses Protestors – February 22, 2014